Divorce Lessons From Robin Williams That Saved My Childhood

As much as I despise the term "child of divorce," I am one. My parents' divorce has drastically affected my life in every area, from the expert way that I pack suitcases to my ease in detaching from unhealthy relationships. As an adult, I am grateful for the divorce that defined my childhood — but I never could have gotten here without Robin Williams.

The Summer that my parents separated, I went through the motions of coping with a newly split household: anger, lots of crying, confusion, self-blame, and social withdrawal. A lot of my time during those months was spent picking out new VHS rentals at Blockbuster, then retreating to my bedroom for film-fueled escapism. It was during this time that I discovered Mrs. Doubtfire, the movie that changed my life for the better.

20th Century Fox

As I watched the Hillard children process their new living situation, I found my footing in my own. Sally Field's character, Miranda Hillard, mirrored my mother in her struggle to excel at work, parent resistant children, and maintain a suitable home for her new smaller family. Perhaps most strikingly, I saw my father reflected in Robin Williams's portrayal of Daniel Hillard, the loving, goofball dad who fears losing his children. While my parents had a more amicable divorce than the one portrayed in the film, Mrs. Doubtfire seemed to perfectly sum up my own situation.

In the movie, as he goes to comical lengths for quality time with his children, Williams's character perfectly articulates three lessons that are vital for any child to hear while their parents end their marriage:

  1. It's not your fault. Many kids, like me, blame themselves when their parents split. One of the major messages in this film is that marriages fail in spite of the children, not because of them. Daughters and sons of divorcees might have to live in the wake of a broken relationship, but it's crucial for them to learn that their presence did not shatter something that was already broken.
  2. Regardless of your parents' marital situation, you are loved. If anything is made clear by Mrs. Doubtfire, it's that a divorce doesn't lessen parents' affection for their children. The important takeaway for children watching the film is that, much like Williams's character refuses to give up his kids, parents have a love for their kids that runs deeper than anything else.
  3. Sometimes, divorce is the best choice for a family. Unlike other children's films that grapple with broken homes (I'm looking at you, The Parent Trap), Mrs. Doubtfire does not resolve with the parents rekindling their love. While viewers may hope for a traditional happy ending, by the end of the story, it becomes clear that the Hillards are better off a divorced family. It's incredibly valuable as a child to see that, when a couple is incompatible, sometimes the best resolution is to end the romantic aspect of their relationship. Despite their failed marriage, Field and Williams successfully co-parent their kids, removing them from an unhealthy environment of resentment and constant conflict.
20th Century Fox

I laughed and cried my way through Mrs. Doubtfire probably a dozen times that Summer and still tear up whenever I catch the film on TV. Williams's sincerity in his portrayal of a struggling father helped me come to terms with my parents' divorce, coming out of it a better person. Without his genuine encouragement to children in similar situations, an entire generation of "children of divorce" would have been lost in the shuffle between two homes, never getting affirmation about their unconditional worth as sons and daughters.

The loss of Williams is especially hard for kids who've dealt with divorce, but his impact is unwavering. Two decades after he impersonated a British maid, Williams still offers solace for those struggling in their home lives, particularly the children to whom he related so much. While living in a world without the lovable Mrs. Doubtfire is hard to swallow, the lessons that he taught will never fade: "Sometimes they get back together. And sometimes they don't, dear. And if they don't, don't blame yourself. Just because they don't love each other anymore, doesn't mean that they don't love you."